Even the best NCAA tournament teams have their flaws

Even the best NCAA tournament teams have their flaws
Dayton players celebrate their upset win over Syracuse in the third round of the NCAA tournament Saturday. Dayton isn't the only team that has defied expectations in its trek to the Sweet 16. (Jared Wickerham / Getty Images)

Only the very best teams in college basketball have advanced to the NCAA tournament's round of 16.

Take Dayton versus Stanford in the South Regional … please.


Dayton finished fifth in the Atlantic 10 Conference and absorbed a 26-point loss this season at St. Joseph's. Stanford tuned up for the NCAA tournament with an invigorating 25-point loss to UCLA.

UCLA is not one to talk, though, losing its last Pac-12 Conference regular-season game, by 18, at doormat Washington State.

Virginia, seeded first in the East Regional and playing Michigan State at Madison Square Garden, was uprooted by 35 points at Tennessee.

Michigan State is the hot pick to win the national title — never mind that 14-point home loss in December to North Carolina, which is home watching the rest of the tournament on TV.

Spartans Coach Tom Izzo said he feels increased pressure after being picked to win it all by two world leaders. "President Obama and President Vitale," Izzo said this week.

Maybe they didn't notice Harvard leading Michigan State, 62-60, midway through the second half of a game last week in Spokane.

Luckily for President Obama's bracket, Izzo's team rallied.

"I don't mind letting down alums, but man, the president?" Izzo joked. "I don't want to let him down."

Tennessee has proved to be Sweet 16 material despite its schedule being gruesomely marked by a 26-point loss at Florida.

Tennessee is in a Midwest Regional semifinal against Michigan, which lost by 18 earlier this season at Iowa, which lost to Tennessee last week.

So, Tennessee should hammer Michigan, right?

Connecticut and Iowa State earned a Friday night East Regional game in New York by taking out blue bloods Villanova and North Carolina, respectively.

No one expected much from Connecticut earlier this season after it lost by 33 at Louisville. The Huskies should be no match for Iowa State ... but wait, the Cyclones lost by 25 at West Virginia.

Wisconsin and Baylor play Thursday in the West's second-fiddle semifinal before Arizona and San Diego State, whose interstate highway-savvy fan bases should bolster Honda Center's attendance figures.


Wisconsin lost by 13 points to Minnesota and Baylor by 17 to Kansas, which just lost to Stanford.

The point here is that the first paragraph of this story should have read "Only the very best teams at this moment have advanced to the round of 16."

See, the only thing less important than the past in college basketball is the future. It's not how you played last month or last November, or how you're going to play next week. The question is: How will you play today?

"The best team who plays the best is going to win," Izzo explained. "No matter who's the favorite, who's the underdog … or who's picking you to win."

Almost every team in the Sweet 16 has at least one day this season it would like to take back.

The best overall team, based on the fewest number of points surrendered in total defeats, is still Wichita State. The Shockers lost one game by two points, but it was Sunday and they're out.

Based on rock-solid consistency, the best teams left are Florida and Arizona. Both teams, by the way, also looked terrific last week.

The Gators' ugliest defeat was six points at Wisconsin; the Wildcats lost by seven at Oregon.

Common sense says Florida and Arizona should play for the national title, but the NCAA tournament bracket is often built on a foundation of sand.

People love to extrapolate based on completely irrelevant, and illogical, factors.

Example: The Southeastern Conference proved it wasn't weak this season because all three of its teams advanced to the Sweet 16.

Why, because Tennessee narrowly escaped Iowa in overtime in the play-in game? And Kentucky squeaked by the Missouri Valley champion by two?

"Just because a certain league's teams get knocked out early doesn't mean the league is overrated," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. "And because a league advances in the tournament doesn't mean the league is great."

More nonsense: Florida will defeat UCLA on Thursday in Memphis because the Gators have defeated the Bruins three times in the tournament since 2006.

"You have a totally different coach, you have totally different style of play, you have a totally different philosophy, and you have totally different players," Donovan said of UCLA.

OK, but other than that….

Additional nonsense: Michigan State will advance out of the East because every Spartan who has played four years for Izzo has made it to the Final Four. Michigan State has two seniors, guard Keith Appling and forward Adreian Payne, who have yet to play in a Final Four.

You think Virginia is going to go easy just to keep Izzo's streak alive?

Final dose of nonsense: Arizona will defeat San Diego State because it won by nine earlier this season in San Diego.

Arizona star Brandon Ashley, who played in that game, is now out because of an injury. And San Diego State's Dwayne Polee II, who didn't play in that game, has averaged 15 points and six rebounds in his last two games.

Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan knows the fact he has led recent teams to the Sweet 16 has no bearing on how this team will do against Baylor on Thursday.

"As much as I hate to disappoint you guys, they don't want to hear about the other teams," Ryan said of his players. "This is their team. This is their time."

The fates of 16 remaining teams will be decided by the names on the back of the jerseys, not the front.

This championship could also turn on a sprained ankle, or a blown official's call, or the star shooting guard eating a bad piece of pork from room service.

That's why Ryan created his own term for the only thing that really matters in this tournament:

"The precious present."